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September 26, 2023

Stir against Vizhinjam port project intensifies, locals block key roads

The protracted strike by fishermen over the Adani Group’s planned Vizhinjam trans-shipment facility got worse on Monday after protesters shut down major thoroughfares in Thiruvananthapuram.
As demonstrators staged their agitations near secretariat, airport road, and Chackai, other regions of the city experienced protracted traffic congestion. Despite a directive from district collector Geromic George to the contrary, the demonstrators set up the barrier.

The Latin Catholic church, which is leading the opposition to the port project, claimed that the government was deliberately blocking roads because it was putting a stop to the protests that had been going on for two months.

“The state government is responsible for the present situation. Despite two months’ stir, it has failed to address the key issues raised by the poor fishing community. We will strengthen our agitation,” archdiocese vicar general Eugene H Pereira said, adding the protest was a fight for survival.

Since August 16, a sizable number of coastal residents have been protesting the port project, mostly in front of the main entrance to the neighbouring Mulloor multipurpose seaport in Thiruvananthapuram.

The protesters claim that one of the causes of the district’s increasing coastline erosion is the improper construction of groynes, the man-made sea walls known as “pulimutt” in local language.

They further assert that the government has failed to fulfil its commitments about restoration and that large-scale building and breakwater projects are negatively harming the livelihood of the coastal population.

There have been numerous attempts to resolve the issue through negotiations between the demonstrators and the government.

The government emphasised that because the work has reached a key stage, it cannot be stopped now that it has started after receiving all clearances. By October 2023, the project’s initial phase is anticipated to be operational.
However, protesters have persisted in demanding their seven-point charter of demands, which include pausing the building activity and carrying out a study of the coastal impact of the large-scale project.

“It is a battle for survival. We will not step back until our demands are met,” said Justin, a sea-farer from Kovalam. “Our life is worse than cattle. Successive governments cheated us giving tall promises. We will never allow this port by sacrificing our livelihood,” said Eliyama John, a fish vendor.

“I missed my flight to Mumbai. Though I informed the airline about the blockade officials told me that they cannot wait for more than 10 minutes. I reached the airport after the flight left,” said a techie.

Many students taking various exams reported having trouble getting to their exam locations because of the road obstruction. Some individuals said that they were unable to arrive to the airport in time and missed their flight.

Police have not yet issued a formal statement.

The roadblock, according to the church, was declared last week. Due to the government’s and the Adani group’s indifference, it claimed, the protestors were forced to block crucial roadways.

On September 1, the Kerala High Court ordered the state government to send police to protect the Vizhinjam port project in the midst of the demonstrations. The court further ordered that, in the event that the state government is unable to ensure that peace and order is maintained in the area, required procedures will be made to request suitable assistance from the federal government.

The decision was made in response to a petition filed by Adani Ports, which asked for protection against demonstrators and claimed that neither the police nor the government were acting in this respect.
Later, Adani filed a new motion with the court, claiming that the state had disobeyed the decision and that the project was still in progress. It claimed that the continued protest posed a threat to its employees and that the police had taken no action to stop the demonstrators.

The Adani group told the court last week that there was a blockage at the entrance to the future port due to big tents that were purportedly erected by demonstrators. The government was later ordered by the court to take down these tents, but the police disobeyed the directive because they were concerned about law and order issues.

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